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Trump former aide charged with conspiracy, money laundering

Former campaign chairman Manafort the first victim of Mueller's probe into election meddling

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was charged yesterday with conspiracy against the United States and money laundering, in the first indictment stemming from a sprawling probe into Russian interference in last year's presidential election.

Manafort, 68, and business partner Rick Gates, 45, were charged with allegedly hiding millions of dollars they had earned working for former Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow political party.

Special counsel Robert Mueller announced the charges against the two, the first against any former close Trump aides arising from a federal probe into possible collusion in Russia's effort to tilt the election in Mr Trump's favour.

"Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work," the indictment stated.

"To hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 to at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts," it added.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign early last year, also pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators, admitting he sought to hide contacts with a Moscow-linked professor offering "dirt" on Mr Trump's election rival Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump responded on Twitter yesterday alleging the charges against Manafort are for activities conducted "years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign... there is NO COLLUSION!"

On Sunday, he called the investigation a "witch hunt" and repeatedly denied that his White House campaign colluded with Russia.

12 CHARGES

In all, Manafort and Gates were hit with 12 charges of conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, failing to register as a foreign agent, making false statements and failure to report offshore bank accounts.

Manafort was among the participants of a June 9, 2016, meeting at the Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked lawyer that raised suspicions of collusion between the campaign and Moscow.

The meeting was arranged by Mr Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr, in hopes of receiving damaging information on Mrs Clinton.

The indictment made no mention of Russian involvement in the US campaign, focusing instead on Manafort's earlier Ukrainian ties.

A long-time political operative and consultant, Manafort was recruited in March last year to round up pro-Trump delegates to the Republican Party convention.

Then, in June, Mr Trump named him campaign chairman, replacing the fired Corey Lewandowski.

But in August, he resigned as Ukraine corruption investigators released files showing large payments to Manafort's companies and it became clear he was under investigation in relation to that.

Federal law enforcement officials were reportedly aware of wire transfers linked to Manafort as far back as 2012, when they began investigating whether he committed tax fraud or helped the Ukrainian regime launder money. - AFP

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